Friday, June 13, 2008

Book Review: Unholy Domain is "very much a mix between George Orwell’s 1984 and Philip Dick’s Minority Report."

All Fiction Books: Where Science and Religion Go to War
Reviewd by Stuart Nachbar

Dan Ronco’s Unholy Domain is a science fiction story that is very much a mix between George Orwell’s 1984 and Philip Dick’s Minority Report.This is a story where an innovative technology has supposedly gone haywire, killing a million people and plunging the world or at least American into economic collapse. Domain’s main character, David Brown, is the son of the developer of PeaceMaker, the technology that started the downward spiral and created a nation (or world—I was not sure from the story) divided between factions for religious leadership—the Natural Humans--and technology. Both have their political capital, and both have their terrorists--or freedom fighters—depending on which side you are on. Members of both factions are about to form an even more powerful order known only as the Domain.

I loved the movie Minority Report, so I was anxious to read Domain, and it did not disappoint. While the author is a technologist himself, he doesn’t get the reader lost in technical and computer jargon; that is often a distraction with similar “intelligent” science fiction novels that assume the reader already knows most of the science before he opens the book. His descriptions of robots and PeaceMaker, the killer app were quick and to the point and made me want to continue reading the story. Domain is quite similar to Minority Report in that Brown has become a fugitive, in this case, a brilliant software developer, whose life has become a mission to avenge the loss of his father, a man he hardly knew in his youth. And, as in Minority Report, the main character unveils a major cover-up; unmasked, it means death to Brown and all who help him. Ronco has also done an excellent job of presenting the all-powerful evil cast of characters who lead the Domain. In the end, we learn that distinctions between good and evil technology rest in the hands of a very small number of deceptive, greedy and powerful individuals.

Novels such as Domain, which are set in a not-too-distant future, are often meant to present warnings about our present. In this story there is more about the deceptions of religious leaders, how they manipulate society at large and, what can potentially happen if such manipulation is unchecked and taken to extremes. We have powerful spiritual leaders in America today, though none ask ordinary citizens to take up arms and become holy warriors; however, religious uprisings have been an important part of world history. Ronco’s fictional Army of God is no less formidable than the military leaders in the Crusades, for example, or the Nazis. There are the same blind loyalties to a charismatic leader that drive the movement to the point where it oversteps its bounds and becomes more like the entities it had set out to destroy.

Domain is more of a political science fiction thriller than a techno-thriller. If you are a sci-fi buff anxious to know the potential and power of computing, you may prefer a more scientific story. But if you want a fresh new story that shows how fear can dominate the direction of a society, and how fear can bend technology to its means, then Domain is a worthy read.

Contact Stuart Nachbar at , a blog on education politics, policy and technology or read about his first book, The Sex Ed Chronicle, a novel on education and politics in 1980 New Jersey, at .

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